Cell Phone Privacy Will Soon Get Its Day in Court

first_img Yes, Your Xbox Was Spying on YouFaceApp Responds to (Mostly Unfounded) Privacy Concerns Stay on target The Supreme Court of the United States has agreed to hear a case about whether police can obtain your phone’s location data without probable cause. This is going to be a huge decision for all of us and could decide the future of American privacy laws.Explaining that will take some time, but the core of it is this: right now, police officers and investigators are able to obtain data without a warrant in some states. Some folks and organizations really don’t like this. They assert that it’s a breach of the US Constitution which protects against unreasonable searches, and generally requires that police officers obtain judicial approval to violate someone’s privacy. This means they need what’s called “probable cause,” or, essentially, a damned good reason, to go through your stuff. Phones are tricky, mostly because of the way US law often works.Laws are written to pertain to the current era, and since most of the founders couldn’t imagine supercomputers with connections to satellites that zoom about hundreds of miles above, they didn’t really account for that in the Constitution. Now because someone will always try to pull one over on someone else, in some areas, state and local governments have decided that the constitution’s limits only apply to physical things and not to certain kinds of data — like where you’ve been.This could get dicey fast, however. And circumstantial evidence like being in the wrong place at the wrong time, could seem stronger and end up as a piece in more cases. Obviously for some that could help — more information isn’t usually a bad thing — but it’s always worth considering how something like this could be misused.In the 2014 arrest of Timothy Carpenter, police used cell records to back up their claim that Carpenter had committed several robberies. Covering themselves with the Stored Communications Ask — which allows law enforcement to obtain some electronic data without demonstrating probable cause — Carpenter was later convicted and sentenced to 119 years in prison.Carpenter, as well as his co-counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, have asserted that his data was unlawfully obtained and used against him. And, given how these types of cases go, whether he committed the crimes isn’t under debate here. Whether his civil rights were violated is, though. And this case matters. It’s the first of its kind, plus in the US court system, we tend to follow what’s known as the principle of stare decisis. In essence, it means that courts are told to respect the decisions of one another. Once an idea is enshrined in the courts — like Free Speech — it will tend to gain, rather than lose strength with time. Exceptions exist, of course, but they’re rare.And, making the case a bit more complex, is that this involves a legal third party — your phone provider.In US law, we also have what’s called the “third-party doctrine.” All that means is that unless you’re dealing with a special case — like your doctor’s office — when you give a third party your information, you do not get to claim legal protection for that data. You trusted someone else, and it’s not the government’s fault you made such a silly choice, you fool, you.The ACLU disagrees, saying that technology has wound itself so completely into our lives that this doctrine doesn’t acknowledge. As a result, the organization states that the whole idea is obsolete and antiquated.“Because cellphone location records can reveal countless private details of our lives, police should only be able to access them by getting a warrant based on probable cause,” Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney with the ACLU and representative for Carpenter, said in a statement. “The time has come for the Supreme Court to make clear that the longstanding protections of the Fourth Amendment apply with undiminished force to these kinds of sensitive digital records.”We won’t have a full decision for a while yet. Arguments won’t even be heard until October. But this is one to keep the eyes on, kids.last_img read more